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Roger Gentry, a true hometown hero

A lifelong county resident with a long list of achievements under his belt, Roger Gentry has become a well-known and respected figure in Johnson County who has surely earned a lasting place in its history. Making his living in law enforcement, Gentry has served as both officer and administrator, steering both the Town of Mountain City and Johnson County through tumultuous periods of change, and helping to implement new policies while balancing an often difficult budget.
Gentry began his working career after graduating from Johnson County High School in June of 1965. In December of that year his life changed drastically when he was drafted into the United States Army. After receiving basic training at Fort. Benning, Georgia, the military placed Roger in transportation service, which required him to receive training at Fort Eustis, near Newport News, Virginia. By the following year Gentry was on his way to Vietnam where he spent 13 months.
Released to come home in 1967, Gentry went to work at the Lee Company Manufacturing plant, now Phoenix Medical, in Cold Springs. It was also after returning from service that Roger took an interest in Wanda Reece, whom he met at a football game. By the next year the two were married.
Gentry’s public service began in 1969 when Mountain City Chief of Police, Roy Rash, hired Roger as a city patrolman in April of that year. Moving quickly up the ladder, Gentry was appointed assistant chief in 1970. Roger served 12 years as a patrolman for the city, which back then included walking the streets and developing friendships at local businesses like the old movie theater downtown, as well as checking the parking meters that were installed at the time. According to Gentry, “Working with the city was one on one, because it was such a small setting. We knew everyone, and it was much more personal. I loved every minute of it.”
When Rash left his position as chief of police in 1981, City Mayor Max Wilson appointed Gentry to the position which he held until 1998. Gentry stated that he preferred the administration position, saying “I loved being able to pass on information to younger officers, and I’m proud to say that some of the people hired while I was there are still working within the city.”
Riding on his resounding success with the city police department Gentry made a successful run for county sheriff in 1998. Having spent 29 years with the city, Gentry was well versed with the ins and outs of law enforcement in the county and took to the job readily. His success earned him a second term, keeping him in office until September of 2006.
Gentry’s administration saw many changes for the county sheriff’s department. The big change was the building of a new jail and the moves that came along with it. Three different locations served as the offices under Gentry, the first being the older jail located near the courthouse. During the building of the new jail the department’s offices were located in the health department.
In addition to the new jail, Gentry’s time in office also saw the implementation of several new policies including the establishment of the county’s first resource officers at the middle and high schools, as well as the hiring of the first full time domestic violence officer. When asked about his time as Sheriff, Gentry stated, “I just tried to do my job and enjoy it, and overall it was great working with the people of Johnson County. According to Gentry, “the hardest part of it all was balancing the budget. The county has a small tax base and sometimes we didn’t have the resources we needed.”
When asked about the most difficult thing about his public service, Gentry stated that he regretted having to spend so much time away from his family. Now grown, Roger and Wanda’s two children have made places for themselves in today’s world. Chad works as an assistant professor in the pharmacy school at ETSU, and Teresa is an operating room nurse at Watauga Medical Center. Teresa’s daughter, Brittany, is their only grandchild.
Now retired, Roger spends most of his time just enjoying life, yet the decisions he made while in office have paved a lasting legacy. Having secured his place in the pages of Johnson County history, Gentry can be proud of his achievements, coming from patrolman, to chief of police, and ultimately sheriff. Having given years of time and effort to help keep the citizens of Mountain City and Johnson County safe, Roger Gentry is a true hometown hero.